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June 2, 2011

Like a Local

We hear it all the time from our solo travelers, “I want to meet the locals on vacation.” What does that mean? Is it that you want to learn about a person’s culture and daily habits or are you just trying to get off the beaten track? Which is really not all that bad. Think about some of the most touristy places on the planet; The Eiffel Tower, Rome’s Coliseum, The Statue of Liberty. No tourist would avoid these sites if visiting Paris, Rome or New York. So what’s the obsession?

I may not have all the answers, but as a solo traveler for 30 years now, meeting the locals has introduced me to so many wonderful experiences, too many to count. My favorite invitation is dinner at someone’s home and if mom’s cooking, well, you’ve hit the tourist jackpot! Over the years I’ve learned to make Hungarian Goulash, Hummus, Lechon (Roasted Pig), Spicy Moroccan Beet Salad, Greek Salad with Fresh Goat Cheese, Gazpacho, Thai Dumplings, a Chicago-Style Hotdog and the list goes on. What’s my secret?

Here goes.

First of all, if you are traveling internationally, you have to learn some of the language before you go! If you can’t do that, leave now. There are plenty of options for learning and you really only need 10 words, because it’s not only just a sign of respect, but most of the world’s population wants to learn English anyway. So once the door is open, you will often find that the locals want to practice their English on you!

Ask questions of locals. I know that every guide book says “don’t look like a tourist” but sometimes, strategically done in a safe place, it’s your ticket to something fun. A trick that works often is simply asking directions, you’ll be surprised how many times people will just take you where you’re going and the invitations begin.

I know, I know, dinner time alone stinks, but read a guide book so you learn about your surroundings and not just the sites. A good guide book will fill you in on the politics as well as cultural trends etc. International newspapers or regional magazines in English are also terrific for staying abreast of international as well as local events and fashion If you eat at a well established location in a neighborhood vs. a tourist location, you have a good chance of striking up a conversation about a topic that you’re reading about. This in turn leads to invitations to join a group of locals for coffee or dessert. Contrary to what you’ve heard, for the most part, people love Americans. (see our BLOG “Meeting People: The Chili Cheese Omelet Opener”)

A new phenomenon (yes I said I’ve been doing this for 30 years), thanks to the internet, is a one time event with a local group, whether for singles or any particular topic such as cuisine, language, sports, books, architecture, you name it. Just do a Google search before you go.

On the subject of sports, go to a game! Any game! The stadium is loaded with locals who love their sport and will be thrilled at the chance to convert you.

Musical concerts or other festivals are generally attended by locals and music is a universal language.

Rent a car and explore outside the main city for super local action.

There a dozens of ways to meet locals on your vacation and just because you have a yearn to do the touristy things or that you don’t like to take risks on vacation and prefer an organized tour, doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. Do it and add a little adventure one step at a time.

Today’s Blog was inspired by my research for our “Chicago for the Regular Guy” Tour over Labor Day weekend. Join Mary Delia (our Chi-town local) for what she calls a typical weekend for her in the summer.

We’d love to take you up on your advice for meeting locals on vacation. Let us know how you do it, right here.

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